A new museum in Yellowknife will celebrate the city’s history when it opens later this summer.
Operated by the Yellowknife Historical Society, the Yellowknife Historical Museum will be housed in Giant Mine’s former recreation building at the edge of the old mine site.
The museum will have a gallery; a cafe and restaurant space that seats 50, plus outdoor seating; and a gift shop featuring the work of local artists.
Marie Adams, the secretary treasurer on the society’s board, said she hopes the museum will give tourists another thing to do during the day.
“The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is fantastic. It’s a great place, but they cannot devote the majority of their attention to Yellowknife – they serve the whole Northwest Territories,” Adams said.
“The main exhibit’s focus will be chronological,” said Adams. “It’ll start with the rocks. The oldest rock in the world was found just north of here, so these rocks are pretty important to people who like rocks and like the terrain.”
Then the exhibit will dive into the Indigenous history of the area, then the mining history, and finally look at how Yellowknife became a government town.
The historical society will also still have old mining equipment set up outside around the museum.
Helmut Epp, the society’s president, said the building hosting the museum was originally constructed in 1953. Over the next 15 years, five additions were added to it, including a billiards room, a small library, and a post office.
“A lot of groups had all kinds of events here, including weddings and Christmas parties and New Year’s parties,” he said. “Whenever someone had an event with lots of people, this was it.”
The building ceased to be used by Giant Mine in the early 1990s, and around 2002 it was given to the historical society.
The plan was always to turn it into a museum, but the idea has expanded over the years to include not just Yellowknife’s mining history, but a broader history of the Yellowknife area predating the arrival of the mining industry.
“We tried to retain parts of the building,” explained Adams, speaking about the big renovation. “The back wall is shiplap, which was because they didn’t have plywood.”
However, most of the recreation centre was gutted and refinished – and it now even has in-floor heating.
The society has been working toward opening the museum for over 20 years, but it was only when the Covid-19 economic recovery money started flowing that the society was able to raise enough to get the project off the ground.
Once the museum opens later in the summer – a date has not been announced – the board hopes to also rent it out as a space for things like meetings and weddings to bring in revenue. They also plan to hold events like lecture series, school tours, and artist demonstrations.
“Already, tourists come here in the winter to go aurora watching, and in the summer there’s lots of people on the lake [using the boat launch] and the people drive down here,” said Adams of the Giant Mine area.
“We’re looking to have the cafe be an attraction to have people come to the museum,” she added, noting the board plans to put out a request for proposals for a chef to run the restaurant soon.
They are also seeking artists who would like to sell their art through the museum to reach out to them by email.